The Oratorio Chorale’s new director found her passion for music growing up in Brunswick.
When most of her grade-school friends played soccer, Emily Isaacson preferred singing in the chorus.
The 31-year-old Brunswick native returns to her roots, taking over as director of the 60-voice midcoast chorus for its 40th anniversary season.
She replaces Peter Frewen, who directed the chorale for 27 years. The chorale begins its season with concerts Nov. 16-17 in Brunswick and Portland.
Isaacson began her duties this summer, days after giving birth to her first child. She and her husband live in Boston, where she is assistant music director of Juventas, a new music ensemble; director of the Boston City Singers; and a music teacher in the city schools.
She commutes to Maine each Sunday on the Downeaster, hands the child off to her parents and then attends to chorale business. The chorus, which numbers about 60 members, rehearses Sunday nights in Topsham.
Directing the chorale allows her to perform again in her native Maine, and she relishes reconnecting artistically to the community where she grew up. She also likes directing a well-established chorale with a strong foundation.
“I loved the idea of stepping into something that has been around a long time and been meaningful in the lives of people – the singers and the audience – for such a long time,” she said. “It’s a real challenge. We ask ourselves, ‘What can we do now?’ ‘Where do we go next?’”
Isaacson has planned three concerts for the chorale’s 40th anniversary season, and at least two of them feature a theme that she likes talking about: collaboration. The fall concerts, set for Nov. 16-17, will include music by Mozart, Mendelssohn, Monteverdi, Schutz and others, as well as the Maine premiere of the “Kyrie” from Festival Mass by Scott Ordway. The Portland Portland Brass Quintet, the Maine Chamber Ensemble, organist Ray Cornils and soloists Jessica Petrus, Stephanie Kacoyanis and John D. Adams will join the chorale.
The winter concert will feature songs from Shakespeare plays and will include performances by the Naked Shakespeare acting troupe.
“I want to direct a performing ensemble that is a model for what we should be as a community, working together with the best institutions and the best talent to create something different that is so much greater than the individual parts,” she said.
That she is able to so in her hometown is all the more rewarding.
Isaacson is a fourth-generation Mainer, who grew up in Brunswick and graduated from Brunswick High School in 2000.
She got involved with music early on, and credits both Bowdoin International Music Festival founder and artistic director Lewis Kaplan and Bowdoin Choir director Anthony Antolini as influences and mentors.
Her education and career have taken her many places. She earned her bachelor’s degree at Williams College in Massachusetts, her master’s in musicology at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, a second master’s in conducting at the University of Oregon, and she is a candidate for her doctor’s degree in musical arts at the University of Illinois.
She has worked and taught in all those locations, and others.
It’s early in her tenure, but so far she is earning raves from members of the chorus. Last season, it had about 35 members. Isaacson has aggressively recruited new members, and the number of singers is approaching 60.
Jean Webster sings in the chorale and is a member of its board. Isaacson had not only the support of the board during the application and interview process, but the singers as well. They had a vote for the new director, and Isaacson won them over with a combination of her personality and her musical vision, Webster said.
“She is very nice, very kind and she has a sense of humor. She is very good with music, and she has a clear idea of what she wants to do. She knows just what she wants and how to achieve it,” Webster said.
“She showed me she could lead without being vociferous, which is nice.”
Isaacson feels grateful for the opportunity to make music again in Maine.
“Finding a way to make art and being part of the community and part of the art scene is very gratifying,” she said. “One thing I have learned over the years is that Maine artists do their art because they love it. There’s a deep love here.”
Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: